Skip navigation
Real-World Health Care Reform For Restaurants

Real-World Health Care Reform For Restaurants

We’ll find out soon how health care reform will play out for restaurant owners. But let’s look at who has the sweetest restaurant-specific health care setup going right now. It’s the 15 New York Çity operators who participate in Dr. David Ores’ Restaurant Workers Health Care Cooperative (RWHCC). This organization provides red-tape-free medical care a small business owner can afford. Could something similar work in your town?

God only knows what sort of final health care legislation will emerge when the Congressional conference committee reconciles the much-different health care reform bills that passed the Senate and House late last year. Who knows how many more “favors” like the $100 million one Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson received to solidify his vote in favor of the Senate version of the bill will be needed to create consensus?

But some of the hippest restaurants in New York City—including Wiley Dufresne’s WD-50, Aaron Sanchez’s Paladar and Chris Santos’ Stanton Social—have already solved a big part the health care puzzle for their employees.

What these operators have in common is a location on the Lower East Side of Manhattan near the medical offices of Dr. Ores. He’s the one-man band who provides medical care to their workers, both part- and full-time, under the auspices of the RWHCC.

The co-op works this way. Restaurants pay a monthly fee to RWHCC based on their size, with most members paying in the neighborhood of $150 to $200 per month. Then whenever a restaurant worker needs to see the doctor, it’s free. Ores’ fee comes out of the pool of the co-op’s funds.

Sound impossibly cheap? Keep in mind that not everything is covered. Hospital care, emergency room visits, prescriptions and a lot of expensive tests aren’t part of the deal, although Ores does steer his patients to the lowest-cost providers of these services. But he gives restaurant workers a go-to guy for routine care, which is all most uninsured restaurant workers typically need.

“This program will keep them out of the emergency room and cause much less stress on the city’s system,” Ores told website “They will miss fewer days of work—which is vital for the working poor—and they won’t get the customers sick by coughing on the food all day. Also, they won’t get a hospital bill for $3,000 and go into debt, when all they had was a cold.”

So is Ores a saint? Not really, although he seems like one to the restaurant owners and their employees who participate in RWHCC. He’s not giving anything away. Ores receives his regular fee ($50-$80) whenever a RWHCC patient visits his office. On average, he says, that amounts to about 8-10 visits per month from the 400 or so restaurant workers whose employers pay into RWHCC. The rest of the good doctor’s practice is thriving, with his laser tattoo removal sub-specialty bringing in a steady trade.

But his idea makes sense for restaurant operators who would like to provide some sort of medical insurance to their employees but can’t even begin to afford comprehensive plans. On his website (, Ores invites other medical doctors to contact him for advice on how to start a co-op like RWHCC. The next time you meet with your fellow operators, why not see if one of them knows a physician who might be interested in forming a similar medical co-op in your location?

Health care reform is imminent at the national level, but we’ll have to wait and see if this means it becomes more affordable for small business owners like restaurant operators. In the meantime, something like the RWHCC could help you provide some level of medical care to your employees at a reasonable cost.